Embracing greatness; quiet stardom; the coming autopsy: Talking points after Germany’s rout of Brazil

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For the host nation, it was one of the most demoralizing games in World Cup history – a semifinal embarrassment that saw one the world’s most renown soccer nation humbled in historic fashion. But for the victors, it was a coming-of-age conquest – a result that validated years of promise that’d gone unfulfilled.

Perhaps Germany still needs to win on Sunday to fulfill its goals, but with a 7-1 win over Brazil in Belo Horizonte, the three-time champions gave us a memory that transcends any single game, tournament, or result. This was truly unforgettable – a onslaught that will define this group of players from now until their replacements come through. No matter what happens on this weekend’s final, nobody will forget the heights Germany reached in today’s demolition of Brazil.

Consider that one talking point from today’s semifinal, though the conclusions we can draw from such a strange, lopsided game are less clear. That’s our next stop as we start to dissect today’s shock result:

[MORE: Germany hammer hosts Brazil 7-1, yes 7-1, to make eighth World Cup final ]

1. Germany makes its claim to greatness

As Brazil 2014’s progressed, some begun to bemoan the lack of a truly great team, apparently seeing that as a requirement for anybody who lifts the World Cup Trophy. Never mind that fact that the last six World Cups have only produced three clearly great teams (Spain 2010, Brazil 2002, France 1998). This year’s tournament just fizzling out great without a transcendent squad, the thinking implied.

After today’s performance, that qualm should morph into a question: Is Germany this tournament’s great one? Considering what we saw in the first half, it’s a fair question. When you put-up five goals in 19 minutes against the tournament favorites, performances against Algeria and Ghana become understandably overlooked.

The Germans will need another dominant stretch on Sunday for history embrace their greatness, but don’t expect anything approaching today’s result. Argentina or the Netherlands will be far better than Brazil, while Germany’s larger body of work suggests this is an exception, not a rule.

But what an exception it was. Brazil was disgustingly bad, but how many teams are capable of a scoring seven in the semifinal against anybody, let alone a team as talented as the Selecao? What other squad in the world would have been able to exploit those errors with such ruthless efficiency? How many teams are capable of bringing it all together to the extent we saw from Germany?

Maybe the Spain that was? Perhaps a team with Lionel Messi could produce this result, but given what we’ve seen from Argentina, that’s purely hypothetical. Beyond those two teams, we have to look back consult history in lieu of the present. Maybe Cruyff’s Dutch teams, on their best day, could have replicated this result.

Perhaps Sunday will prove Germany’s more fallible, less apt to satisfy people’s need for greatness, but for one day in Belo Horizonte, Joachim Löw gave the critics what they wanted. Germany gave us Brazil 2014’s first flashes of greatness, carving out a historic result in the process.

[MORE: Germany vs. Brazil: Looking back at 19 minutes of carnage in Belo Horizonte ]

source: AP
Brazil’s Oscar  after Germany defeated Brazi in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

2. The post-mortem on Brazil will be long, excruciating

The most reasonable explanation for today’s result will likely be “Brazil just played poorly.” Over the last two years, we’ve seen enough to know they’re just not this bad. In fact, they’re usually pretty good. Today was clearly an outlying performance, one that becomes more explicable when you remember Brazil was without Neymar and Thiago Silva. This as just one of those days.

Tactics will be analyzed, individual performances will be vilified, but you don’t end up with such a decisive scoreline without a psychological element. At some point, Brazil snapped mentally, either realizing they were out of their league or psychologically panicking amid the German onslaught. Perhaps it was the pressure and expectations. Maybe it was knowing Neymar and Silva were out. Regardless Brazil turned off.

But the same dangers we face in evaluating Germany — the tendency to give too much weight to a small, outlying period of time — we’ll  also encounter with Brazil. The team was clearly flawed, but they were only flawed relative to the other tournament favorites. Today’s performance was unpredictably out-of-character.

At its most important time, Brazil gave its most disappointing performance. Hopefully, after the autopsy, hopefully fans will see a strong, talented team that fell unforeseeably short.

3. Die nationalmannschaft’s quiet stardom

If you judged by publicity, advertising, and pre-tournament buzz, Mario Götze was probably Germany’s biggest star. Philipp Lahm was most respected, and perhaps Thomas Müller was his side’s most productive, but Götze was the brightest of the Mannschaft’s stars. A starter at the beginning of the tournament, the Bayern Munich attacker is still seen as the future of his national team.

On Tuesday, however, the 22-year-old didn’t get on the field. Instead, it was a slew of slightly less publicized talents. Not that Müller, Toni Kroos, or Sami Khedira lack in renown, but they’re rarely discussed amongst the game’s elites. And among players that are considered as their generation’s defining players, you rarely hear the names Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger, or Lahm, even though all three garner tremendous respect.

source: AP
Germany’s Miroslav Klose gestures as he is substituted during in Belo Horizonte. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

In a tournament where finding the next Diego Maradona is an obsession, where the performances of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are judged in terms of their ability to carry countries on their shoulders, Germany has nobody in that conversation. In the soccer world, the team’s entire lineup draws acclaim. As far as transcendent stars, though, there isn’t a Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the bunch.

Yet here we are, trying to put a 7-1 win over the host nation, the pre-tournament favorite, in perspective. Klose now holds the all-time record for World Cup goals, while Müller, only 24 years old, is already up to 10 career tallies. Manuel Neuer has been among the best goalkeepers at the tournament, while the acclaim of head coach Joachim Löw will only grow after this dismantling. As the spotlight on German grows, they’ll be plenty of fame to go around.

But make a list of the most famous players in the world, and you’ll probably go 10, 12 deep before writing a German name. As their accomplishments start to match their promise, though, the quality of their stars will be undeniable.

Perhaps there’s no Messi, Ronaldo, or Ibrahimovic in their ranks, but a more quiet stardom may prove more successful. Whether we consider the Müllers, Krooses, or Khediras amongst the games best, they just produced one of the game’s more impressive results. Perhaps limiting them to mere stars does them a disservice.

 

LIVE, UCL – Sevilla vs. Man United, Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma

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Jose Mourinho has created a splash this morning by benching Paul Pogba despite utilizing a 3-man central midfield formation as Manchester United heads to Spain to take on Sevilla in their Champions League Round of 16 first leg meeting.

Pogba was left out of Saturday’s win over Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup due to illness, but having made the trip to Sevilla with the matchday squad, it seems his omission is instead due to tactical reasons. 21-year-old academy product Scott McTominay starts in Pogba’s place alongside Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera, with the Frenchman on the bench among the substitutes.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

The decision is surprising given Manchester United’s 16-point deficit in the Premier League table as they trail runaway favorites Manchester City, leaving the Champions League as the best competition remaining that the Red Devils have a shot to win.

Up front for Manchester United, Alexis Sanchez carries the creative load along with Juan Mata, with both supporting Romelu Lukaku at the striker position. Meanwhile, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof continue to work as the central defensive partnership, while Antonio Valencia captains the side as full-back, mirrored by Ashley Young on the other edge.

In the other matchup, Roma heads to the Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk, who finished 2nd in Group F three points behind Manchester City. The Ukranian side has only just returned from its winter break, with just a single game played since December 10th.

Roma, meanwhile, has pulled itself out of a rut just in time for the return of Champions League play, with three straight Serie A wins coming on the heels of a five-match winless run. They have scored eight goals over those three wins, with a pair of road clean sheets among the group. 20-year-old Turkish winger Cengiz Under is on fire over the win streak, scoring four goals over that span.


Today’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 schedule

Sevilla vs. Manchester United – 2:45 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma – 2:45 p.m. ET

Reports: Mourinho to leave Paul Pogba out of Champions League lineup

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According to multiple reports across England, including the BBC, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is ready to leave Paul Pogba out of his starting lineup for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Sevilla despite utilizing a 4-3-3 formation with three central midfielders.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

The reports state that Pogba will be left on the bench in favor of youngster Scott McTominay, who will start alongside Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. Mourinho has spoken highly of McTominay recently, saying three days ago, “I think Scott deserves more than what he is getting.”

“Maybe it’s because he’s this kind of kid profile: a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches, humble kid, arrive in the club when he was nine or 10,” Mourinho said in what many perceived to be a thinly veiled slap at Pogba.

Mourinho has held back from publicly criticizing his $125 million midfielder in the media, but his actions on the field suggest otherwise. The 24-year-old has failed to record 90 minutes in three straight Premier League matches, seeing his manager yank him before the full-time whistle in two and failing to make the starting lineup in the other, leaving many to speculate a rift between the two.

The decision is especially surprising given Juan Mata‘s comments earlier Wednesday that suggested Manchester United is prioritizing the Champions League, given their 16-point deficit to Manchester City in the Premier League table.

Pogba missed the 2-0 FA Cup win over Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness, but it’s hard to imagine that four days later that keeps the French superstar on the bench, especially given his ability to make the trip to Sevilla with the matchday squad.

Leicester City settles Financial Fair Play dispute with Football League

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Leicester City will owe the Football League a reduced fine after coming to an agreement with the English lower-league governing body over a dispute regarding the 2013/14 season.

The Foxes, who won the Championship that season and were promoted to the Premier League, were handed an official breach of Financial Fair Play rules after accruing a loss exceeding the allowed $11 million amount. However, Leicester City argued that the deficit was due to “allowable” amounts regarding promotion and academy costs.

After talks between the two parties, the EFL announced Leicester City will owe a reduced amount of $4.33 million. They could have owed up to $18 million, the differential between the allowed amount and their actual posted loss of $20.8 million.

In an official release, the EFL announced, “The EFL acknowledges that [Leicester City] did not make any deliberate attempt to infringe the Rules or to deceive and that the dispute arose out of genuine differences of interpretation of the Rules between the parties.”

After initially receiving word of the notice back in 2014, the Foxes had legally challenged the fine, but that had been put on hold after litigation began in 2015 between the EFL and Queens Park Rangers for a similar dispute. Bournemouth was also fined after incurring a significant loss in their 2014/15 promotion season. Teams that breach rules but are not promoted face transfer bans, such as Fulham, Bolton, and Nottingham Forest received through the 2014/15 season.

Who’s to blame? A closer look at Chelsea’s blunder late vs. Barcelona

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As our very own Joe Prince-Wright explained yesterday in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, Antonio Conte could not have set his team up better for success at Stamford Bridge.

And yet, they walked away from the first leg with a disappointing result, one that could set up Barcelona with the advantage as they head to the Camp Nou in two weeks time.

So where did it all go wrong? That pass from Andreas Christensen, obviously – the one that gifted Lionel Messi a late goal. But is Christensen to blame? Or were there other culprits?

Clearly, the pass was ill-advised. Christensen sends the ball across his own box parallel to the goal mouth, which Andreas Iniesta easily pilfers and sends to Messi for his first goal against Chelsea. It was a pass they teach 7-year-olds not to make, one that even the youngest of dedicated soccer players knows to avoid.

Christensen makes an easy target, given that he is just 21 years old, has only just recently earned his way into the Blues starting lineup, and was the most obvious culprit having made the fateful pass.

However, upon closer inspection, it may not have even been meant to reach the far side of the field.

Christensen’s exasperated reaction suggests the pass was likely intended for Cesc Fabregas who sat at the top of the box under little pressure. Christensen was closed down on the far touchline with little room to operate, and his outlet to Fabregas in the middle of the field was a good option, even if the general idea of a pass in that direction is usually frowned upon. However, Christensen’s pass was just slightly behind Fabregas, and the Spaniard ultimately decided to let the ball go instead of chasing it down, leaving it for a less populated area of the field.

Unfortunately, with his back turned to the eventual destination of the pass, Fabregas was unaware that Iniesta had anticipated its flight path and was already making a run to steal the ball. When the veteran Barcelona midfielder reached the ball, he was challenged by a sliding Cesar Azpilicueta, who completely whiffed. While Christensen and Fabregas were culpable of putting the team in a dangerous situation, Azpilicueta’s tackle was an abomination. Azpilicueta actually reached the ball first, but inexplicably failed to make contact with the ball, allowing Iniesta to easily evade the slide and still take charge of the ball.

Andreas Christensen is the clear perpetrator, but Fabregas and Azpilicueta both contributed negatively to the situation, leaving Chelsea at a slight disadvantage heading into a hostile environment despite Antonio Conte’s best efforts. Sadly, Conte will be the one to shoulder the accountability at the end of the season if Chelsea goes out of the Champions League, even though he received top marks for the match, and his players let him down.